Founder: Dennis Howard
Date Established: March 3, 1988
Date Closed: May 7, 1991
Number of Locations: 2
Dennis Howard, Founder
Bridget (Howard) Fraser
First Facility: Laser Strike (later renamed Laser Quest), 191 Jackson Street, Petone, Lower Hutt, Wellington, New Zealand
Equipment: Vada's equipment included a vest and phaser. The chest piece was mounted on a strap that was placed over the head. The phaser Vada invented looked similarly to a two-handed assault weapon with real lasers built in with IR transmitters. Being made of aluminum cast-alloy, the phaser was very heavy, which was Vada's main equipment downside.
History: Dennis Howard and his family members, daughter Bridget and son Chris, were the creators of Vada Force Laser Tag. The parent company, Vaada Laser Systems, Ltd, was developed after operating a Laser Strike location in Petone, Lower Hutt, New Zealand.
From the Curator - September 1, 2013:
This virtually unknown laser tag system was completely lost in the fog of time. Almost no one currently in the laser tag industry knew anything about Vada Laser Systems. In fact, the system was a complete unkown to the Laser Tag Musuem until November 2012. And it was an offhand remark that brought Vada Laser Systems to our attention.
I was chatting with Phil Pickersgill, co-founder of Laser Quest, at the IAAPA Trade Show about the origins of Laser Quest and he says in his typically understated way "Oh, you don't know about VadaForce, do you?". I already had a flight planned to the UK the folowing week so we agreed to finish up the conversation then.
Phil did not have much information about the VadaForce creators. He remembered that it was started by a farmer named "Derek" who had one son, named Chris, and one daughter, named Bridget. He also remembered that they had been in the small town of Petone, Lower Hutt, Wellington.
Fast forward to April 2013 when Frank Stace, co-founder of Phaser Strike, sent me an email with details of the stakeholders of VadaForce. Thir names turned out to be Dennis Howard (not Derek); Chris Howard and Bridget Howard. I was able to contact Dennis Howard, Chris Howard and then Bridget (Howard) Fraser over the course of several weeks.
The Howards sat down with me at a French Bistro on Jackson Street in Petone, Lower Hutt, Wellington on August 26, 2013. All three were immeditely warm, welcome and eager to tell the story about VadaForce and the parent company, Vaada Developments, Ltd.
Bridget was the dominate storyteller in the conversation that night with Dennis and Chris providing supporting elements to the story.
Dennis and a former business partner were looking for a business opportunity back in 1986 that would supplement their income. Several business opportunities were considered and paintball seemed to be the natural choice for the men. They liked the fact it was indoors; that advanced bookings could indicate revenue for the week and that there were no indoor paintball fields the area at that time.
But, fate intervened when they learned of Laser Strike in Christchurch.
Laser Strike met all of the criteria and it had no paintball mess. So they purchased the very first Laser Strike franchise and became the second Laser Strike to open in New Zealand. They operated the business with the Laser Strike equipment for about a year. But, due to extreme use by the large crowd of customers as well as the state of electronics manufacturing back in the mid-1980's, the Laser Strike was difficult to maintain and expensive to support.
Chris felt that they could create a better laser tag system. He set about developing a product that had all of the features that he desired and was more robust. In short time, he had developed the VadaForce Laser System. They install the VadaForce equipment and begin testing it imemdiately.
In a stroke of luck, Mr. Frank Stace visited their location while researching Laser Strike. He was intrigued by the VadaForce system. And he had a couple of gentlemen who were interested in purchasing a laser tag system. Frank introduced Mr. Phil Pickersgill and Mr. Simon James to the Howards.
Phil and Simon were looking for equipment to open their laser tag business in Manchester, UK.
Chris Howard travelled from New Zealand with 2 laser tag packs in his luggage to show the equipment and its features. Phil and Simon needed laser tag equipment fairly quickly and so a deal was struck for Vada to supply the new Manchester location.
Phil actually travelled back to New Zealand and spent a month living with the Howard's to help assemble the equipment to meet the deadline. Phil and Simon had already set up a company in the UK known as "Phaser Strike, Ltd." as it apeared that Phil and Simon were originally planning to use Phaser Strike equipment out of Australia. Instead, they opened with VadaForce Laser Systems.
Phil and Simon had changed the name of their business concept from "Phaser Strike" to "Laser QUest" and then opened on December 1, 1989. Meanwhile, back in Petone, the Howard's rename their facility from "Laser Strike" to "Laser Quest". The Howard's operate their laser tag business until 1997 at which time they shut it all down due to the cost of trying to maintain the old laser tag equipment and the decline in business.
(From left to right - Bridgette (Howard) Fraiser; Chris Howard behind Bdridgette; Dennis, sitting across from Chris; and Erik Guthrie sitting at a French bistro on Jackson Street, Petone, New Zealand, dated August 26, 2013.)
It was striking to listen to the Howard's about how they operated their business and to see many operational and marketing items that they had implemented are now industry standard. The VadaForce packs have long been binned with no known packs existing. Bridgett did have an old video tape which we will digitize. She also had a few pictures that I scanned right there at dinner. Unfortunately, none of the photos showed the arena or even the equipment.
We all left at the end of dinner and headed down just a couple of blocks to the old location at 191 Jackson Street, Petone. It was an enjoyable evening and I could feel their excitement as they recalled many stories of the development and operation of Vada Laser Tag.
I left the Howard's without any VadaForce Equipment or even a clear photo of the equipment. No sales brochure. No marketing pictures. Physically, there was still almost no proof of the VadaForce equipment's existence. And that was a bit disappointing given how far I had travelled.
But, fate intervened just two days later with a meeting with Frank Stace on the South Island. He donated to the Laser Tag Museum numerous publicity photographs on the A4 size of the VadaForce equipment in glorious color. He also had the draft sales agreement between Vada Laser Systems and Phaser Strike which would provide equipment to what would be known as the first Laser Quest.
VadaForce's contribution to the industry was providing equipment to Laser Quest and the number of laser tag systems that followed from Laser Quest are remarkable. DarkLight, Intersphere, Reflex, LaserMaxx, VeQtor, Actual Reality and many others.